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Multinational Monitor (ISSN 01974637) is published monthly by
the Corporate Accountability Research Group, 1346 Connecticut
Avenue, N.W., Room 411, Washington, DC 20036. Telephone: (202)
833-3932. Cable: MULTIMON. Second-class postage paid Washington,
DC and additional offices. 

POSTMASTER: Send address changes to Multinational Monitor
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Washington, DC 20036. 


The New Factory Girls
by Annette Fuentes and Barbara Ehrenreich
Around the globe, multinationals use women to keep labor costs 
down and profits up

Down on the Border
by Maria Patricia Fernandez Kelly
In Mexican "grist mills" women grind out products for American 

Are Multinationals the Problem? A Debate.
No--Linda Lim
Yes--David O'Connor and Chia Siew Wong

Immigrants: the latest return on U.S. investment
by Saskia Sassen-Koob
The main countries sending immigrants to the U.S. have received 
high levels of U.S. investment in manufacturing.

Sweet Darlings in the Media
by Jill Gay
How foreign corporations sell Western images of women to the 
Third World



IN BRIEF         The wage gender gap * Japanese companies make- 
                 up Asia * Pregnancy test drug banned in India 
                 * Woman's oldest profession spreads * Infant  
                 formula update 

RESOURCES        Factories for the Third World, a film by      
                 Gordian Troeller and Claude Deffarge. 

                 Resources on women and multinationals:        
                 organizations, books and periodicals, and     


Multinationals: An issue for women

This issue of Multinational Monitor is about women. We believe
it is as important to women as it is to those concerned about
the power of corporations. 

The power that multinationals exercise in the Third World has a
profound effect on women who occupy a subordinate position in
social and economic life throughout most of the world. First,
women produce commodities for multinationals. Women have long
been part of the workforce in factories around the world. But in
recent years we are seeing a more distinct phenomenon:
multinationals, particularly electronics and textile
manufacturers, selectively hire Third World women to assemble or
manufacture their products. This phenomenon is occurring
primarily in Southeast Asia and in Latin America. 

In the community of critics who have studied women workers in
multinational export factories, a debate is being waged over
whether multinationals are to blame for the exploitation of
women workers. In this issue, we have included an example of
that debate with a paper by Linda Lim, one of the first
researchers in this field, who argues that multinationals step
into existing oppressive social systems and in fact benefit
women by providing them with an independence they had not known
before and with better wages and conditions than alternative
occupations. David O'Connor and Chia Siew Wong respond to her

While we agree that as a result of their employment, women have
broken out of the isolation of their homes and for the first
time have access to regular income, we believe Lim has not given
sufficient attention to the original causes for those existing
oppressive conditions, which may in many instances be traced
back to the domination of the Third World by the industrialized
West. But Lim's ideas do provide much food for thought. We
invite your comments. 

Second, women consume products from multinationals.
Multinationals have created what has been called the "global
supermarket," controlling the production and distribution of
many goods in some of the remotest areas of the world. Women, as
the traditional providers of food, health care, and household
needs for their families, are special targets of corporate
marketing. Aggressive promotional campaigns and advertising
directed from Madison Avenue convince women that processed foods
and infant formula, for example, are better, healthier, and more
desirable than local food products or natural breastmilk.
Companies sometimes promote untested forms of contraception and
drugs for common ailments that have been proven ineffective or
harmful in their home countries. 

The very ads that instill in American women a sense of
inadequacy about their appearance, their housekeeping, and their
relationships, perform the same trick on women in the Third
World. Jill Gay's article describes how the corporate-controlled
media presents false images of women and pushes products which
misleadingly promise affluence, sexual desirability, and Western

Third, women are commodities for multinationals. Advertisements
aimed at men depict skimpily clad women in suggestive poses,
usually featured as decorative props to sell cars, office
equipment, or alcohol. The implied message is that women's
bodies are another piece of merchandise. Women's bodies are also
being used in another foreign-oriented industry: the "sex tour."
This type of prostitution, especially prevalent in Southeast
Asia, caters to tourists and visiting businessmen by including
women who masquerade as "tour guides," waitresses, barmaids, or
"hospitality girls" as part of tour packages. The agencies
arranging such tours are often owned by large multinational
hotel and airline companies. 

Multinationals, then, create a range of situations and problems
for women. Although the prospects for resisting such enormous
power might seem grim, Third World women have shown themselves
capable of posing a serious challenge to multinational power. As
articles in this issue describe, women workers in South Korea
and the Philippines have succeeded in politicizing women through
self-education groups and in changing working conditions through
strikes and labor demands. These are but two examples of the
growing resistance to multinational power. But as long as
multinationals can relocate at the first hint of labor unrest,
women will have difficulty sustaining long-term change until
they can take collective action with women workers in other

Some organizations such as the International Organization of
Consumers Unions have begun to address the problems of women,
although in limited ways. They could more broadly incorporate
feminist issues into their agenda. And feminists might use
international action campaigns such as the infant formula
network as a spring-board to launch new campaigns around women's
health and consumer issues. 

In general, however, organizing efforts around multinationals
have not considered the problems of women often enough;
correspondingly, feminists have not been active on the problems
of multinationals. It is important for women to consider the
similarities that they face as industrial workers, as consumers,
and as citizens in different countries. Although a wide gap in
living standards and in economic and social development exists
between industrialized and Third World countries, women on both
sides of the gap often share more than they realize. This is
especially true of immigrant and minority women in developed
countries. Women in the U.S. need to take the lead in expressing
support for women abroad and to use their political experience
to fight multinationals in their home territory. We hope this
issue will provide information and insights which will encourage
women in the U.S. and in Third World to develop links among




Woman's oldest profession 

Prostitution "continues to spread" and "traffic in women" still
exists all over the world, according to an April 1983 report
prepared for the United Nations Economic and Social Council. The
rise in prostitution and trafficking in women in attributed to
increased poverty, unemployment, and rural exodus to cities. 

The report describes how prostitution rings and "agents" recruit
women through the promise of employment and then sell them as
brides, household help, or secretaries to men in foreign
countries. Many of these positions turn out to be nothing more
than fronts for forms of sexual slavery. 

Another group regularly exploiting the growing pool of
prostitutes are the "hospitality" industries set up to serve
tourists and visiting businessmen. The report cites the
destructive effects on the local community and on the political
and social development of women of tourist-generated
prostitution. Such tourism is often viewed by the native
population as a corruption introduced by industrialized
countries, and thus "may provoke hostile reactions to
development itself and prompt a return of discriminatory moral
structures which would be an obstacle to the much needed
emancipation of women." 

-Josh Martin

The Gender Gap

The United Nations Monthly Bulletin of Statistics of June 1983
reported that women still earn far less than men--though there
are some signs that the gap may be narrowing a bit. 

Ironically, some of the worst cases of inequality appear in
"advanced" nations. For example, in the United States, where the
median monthly salary in manufacturing is $1,194, women only
earn 60 percent of what their male counterparts make each month.
In Burma, however, with monthly salaries of just $27 in the
manufacturing sector, women earn 89 percent of men's wages. 

-Josh Martin

Making-up Asia

Japanese companies, both large and small, have pushed cosmetics
in Asian markets in recent years. Japanese feminists have
responded by denouncing the expanded "cosmetics drive" as
economic and cultural exploitation. 

Japan's largest cosmetic company, Shiseido, opened its first
overseas office in 1957 in Taiwan and now dominates the Asian
beauty trade. The company currently has 5,130 stores in 20
countries. Cosmetics for its 2,300 outlets in Southeast Asia are
manufactured in Taiwan and Singapore. 

Japanese companies have found that Asian women will buy their
cosmetics despite exorbitant prices. The price of cosmetics sold
in Asian markets is sometimes 100 times the manufacturing cost,
and is actually higher than their price in Japan because of the
weaker local currencies. In 1979, for example, Shiseido's
Quintesse skin lotion was sold in South Korea for $5.40 at a
time when women's monthly wages were only $29 for factory
workers, and $50 for office workers. To market to poor women,
cosmetics sold door to door are sometimes sold on instalment

In addition, Japanese women's groups point to the health hazards
associated with cosmetic use. Scientific studies have
demonstrated that some cosmetics contain low-grade toxins that
accumulate and damage the skin renewal system and cause spots
leading to discoloring skin diseases. 

But Shiseido is not just promoting a product. It is promoting an
image--a decidedly Western image. One Shiseido product boldly
pushes the notion that to be attractive, brown-skinned Asian
women must be Western and look white. Its name: "White Beauty." 

-Darcine Thomas

Source: ISIS Women's International Bulletin, March 1983. 


Pregnancy hazards

The government of India recently banned the manufacturing and
marketing of estrogen-progesterone injections for pregnancy
testing, the National Women's Health Network reports, after
health and women's groups campaigned strongly against the drug's

Estrogen-progesterone is a synthetic hormone preparation used to
determine whether a woman who has missed her period is pregnant
or not, and to treat delayed menstruation. But the injections
have been shown to be ineffective and hazardous. Hormones are
not reliable pregnancy tests, studies have shown; one out of
five test results turn out to be false positives. The
preparation is also ineffective in the treatment of delayed
menstruation since it does not induce, and can even delay, the
onset of bleeding. 

When the woman tested for pregnancy is already pregnant,
estrogen-progesterone can cause heart and limb defects in the
unborn child. The injection can also cause abortion. One English
study found a 10 percent abortion rate after use of the drug. 

Estrogen-progesterone has been widely available in India for
years. In 1982, 15 brand names were marketed by several
companies including the American firm Parke-Davis and the
English company Glaxo. Doctors and chemists prescribed them to
an estimated 180,000 women each year without any warning as to
their dangers. Some brands were even available over the counter.

In 1970, Sweden became the first country to ban estrogen-
progesterone preparations. Finland followed suit in 1971, the
U.S. and Singapore implemented a ban in 1975, the United Kingdom
in 1978. 

One Indian activist warns, however, that though the ban has been
pronounced by the government, it is not being enforced. Vincent
Panikulangara, founder of the Indian Public Interest Law Service
Society, reports that estrogen-progesterone is still available 
over the counter in India. 

-Darcine Thomas

Sources: Centre for Education & Documentation, 3/8/82;
Health Action International News, 1/9/83; National
Women's Health Network, 3-4'83.


Infant Formula Update 

The International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN) will wind up
a year-long series of regional conferences with a final meeting
in southern Africa in October. 

Each conference has brought together women, consumer activists,
and health professionals from various countries to share
information and experience and to initiate action campaigns
around companies' promotion of infant formula. The United
Nations estimates that more than one million "bottle babies" die
each year due to improper use of infant formula. 

So far, IBFAN has held conferences in Southeast Asia, South
Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, and East Africa. The
campaigns aim to devise strategies for pressuring governments to
both adopt the World Health Organization (WHO) code restricting
the marketing practices of infant formula companies, and to
consider legislation allowing women to breastfeed while working.

The infant formula code was passed by the WHO in May 1981 with
almost unanimous approval - only the United States voted against
it. But many countries have been slow in implementing it. Some
countries have adopted the code as law, while others have
adopted it as a purely voluntary measure, and still others have
not acted on it at all. 

IBFAN's organizing efforts have already begun to pay off. In
Thailand, an action campaign initiated at the Southeast Asian
conference in September 1982 succeeded in getting the government
to strengthen the weak version of the WHO code it had adopted
earlier. A similar campaign is underway in Malaysia. 


The New Factory Girls

Around the globe, multinationals use women to keep labor costs
down and profits up
by Antete Fuentes and Barbara Ehrenreich

This article is excerpted from a pamphlet, "Women in the Global
Factory," to be published in the fall of 1983 by Institute for
New Communications in New York City. 

In the 1800s, farm girls in England and the northeastern United
States filled the textile mills of the first Industrial
Revolution. Today young Third World women have become the new
"factory girls," providing a vast pool of cheap labor for globe-
trotting corporations. Behind the labels "Made in Taiwan" and
"Assembled in Haiti" may be one of the most strategic blocs of
womanpower of the 1980s. 

In the last 15 years, multinational corporations, such as Sears
Roebuck and General Electric, have come to rely on women around
the world to keep labor costs down and profits up. Women are the
unseen assemblers of consumer goods such as toys, the hardware
of today's "Microprocessor Revolution," and designer jeans. 

Low wages are the main reason companies move to the Third World.
A female assembly line worker in the U.S. is likely to earn
between $3.35 and $5 an hour. In many Third World countries a
woman doing the same work will earn $3 to $5 a day. 

U.S. corporations call their international production facilities
"offshore sourcing." To unions these are "runaway shops" that
take jobs away from American workers. Economists, meanwhile,
talk about a "new international division of labor," in which
low-skilled, labor-intensive jobs are shifted to Third World
countries. Control over management and technology, however,
remains at company headquarters in developed countries like the
U.S. and Japan. 

The electronics industry provides a good example of the new
international division of labor: circuits are printed on silicon
wafers and tested in California; then the wafers are shipped to
Asia for the labor-intensive process in which they are cut into
tiny chips and bonded to circuit boards; final assembly into
products such as calculators, video games, or military equipment
usually takes place in the United States. Yet many American
consumers don't realize that the goods they buy may have made a
global journey--or that the "foreign" products that worry U.S.
workers may have been made in factories owned, at least in part,
by U.S. corporations. 

Since the 1960s, multinationals have scattered factories across
the globe as export-oriented industrialization--touted by the
United Nations Development Organization (UNIDO), the World Bank,
and the International Monetary Fund--has become the favored
strategy for Third World development. Third World countries roll
out the red carpet for foreign investors and become "export
platforms" producing goods for the world market. In return,
"host governments" are promised jobs, technology, and foreign

Free trade zones, or export processing zones as they are also
known, have emerged as key elements in this export-led
development. The free trade zone is a haven for foreign
investment, complete with electricity and other infrastructure
and a labor force often housed in nearby dormitories. 

Free trade zones--there are now over 100--mean more freedom for
business and less freedom for people. Inside, behind walls often
topped with barbed wire, the zones resemble a huge labor camp
where trade unions, strikes, and freedom of movement are
severely limited, if not forbidden. A special police force is on
hand to search people and vehicles entering and leaving the

There are over one million people employed in industrial free
trade zones in the Third World. Millions more work outside the
zones in multinational-controlled plants and domestically-owned
subcontracting factories. Eighty to ninety percent of workers,
whether the product is Barbie dolls or computer components, are

She works hard for the money

Since multinationals go overseas to reduce labor costs, women
are the natural choice for assembly jobs. Wage-earning
opportunities for women are limited and women are considered
only supplementary income earners for their families. Management
uses that secondary status to pay women less than men and
justify layoffs during slow periods, claiming that women don't
need to work and will probably quit to get married anyway. 

Women are the preferred workforce for other reasons.
Multinationals want a workforce that is docile, easily
manipulated, and willing to do boring, repetitive assembly work.
Women, they claim, are the perfect employees, with their
"natural patience" and "manual dexterity." As the personnel
manager of an assembly plant in Taiwan says, "Young male workers
are too restless and impatient to be doing monotonous work with
no career value. If displeased, they sabotage the machines and
even threaten the foreman. But girls, at most they cry a

Multinationals prefer single women with no children and no plans
to have any. Pregnancy tests are routinely given to potential
employees to avoid the issue of maternity benefits. In the
Philippines' Bataan Export Processing Zone, the Mattel toy
company offers prizes to workers who undergo sterilization. 

The majority of the new female workforce is young, between 16
and 25 years old. As one management consultant explains, "When
seniority rises, wages rise"; so the companies prefer to train
a fresh group of teenagers rather than give experienced women
higher pay. The youngest workers, usually under 23 years old,
are found in electronics and textile factories where keen
eyesight and dexterity are essential. A second, older group of
women work in industries like food processing where nimble
fingers and perfect vision are not required. Multinationals can
get away with worse conditions in these factories because the
women generally can't find jobs elsewhere.  

Corporate apologists are quick to insist that Third World women
are absolutely thrilled with their new-found employment
opportunities. A top-level management consultant who advises
U.S. companies on where to relocate their factories said, "The
girls genuinely enjoy themselves. They're away from their
families. They have spending money. They can buy motor bikes,
whatever. Of course it is a regulated experience, too--with
dormitories to live in--so it's a healthful experience." 

By earning money and working outside the home, factory women may
find a certain independence from their families. Meeting and
working with other women lays the foundation for a collective
spirit, and perhaps, collective action. 

But at the same time, the factory system relies upon and
reinforces the power of men in the traditional patriarchal
family to control women. Cynthia Enloe, a sociologist who
organized an international conference of women textile workers
in 1982, says that in the Third World, "the emphasis on family
is absolutely crucial to management strategy. Even recruitment
is a family process. Women don't just go out independently to
find jobs: it's a matter of fathers, brothers, and husbands
making women available after getting reassurances from the
companies. Discipline becomes a family matter since, in most
cases, women turn their paychecks over to their parents. Factory
life is, in general, constrained and defined by the family life

The nimble fingers of "Oriental Girls"

Half a million East Asian women are estimated to be working in
export processing zones. Women are heavily employed in export
manufacture outside the zones as well. In South Korea for
example, women comprise one-third of the industrial labor force.

A great percentage of these "Oriental girls" come from rural
areas, drawn to the burgeoning urban centers by reports from
friends or older sisters who've landed an assembly job.
Companies often recruit in the countryside as well, frequently
enlisting the help of village authorities and the fathers and
brothers of factory-age women. In Taiwan, large companies work
with junior high school principals who offer up busloads of
recent graduates to labor-hungry plants. For the majority of
women, it is their first job experience. They may even be the
first wage-earners in their families. 

While some women live close enough to factories to remain with
their families and commute by bus, most workers are forced to
find accommodations near the plant. Housing is scarce and
expensive for their meager wages. Access to clean water is often
nonexistent or severely limited. 

Company dormitory rooms are small and crowded, with beds shared
by as many as three shifts of workers: as one worker gets up to
go to the factory, another returning from work takes her place
in bed. As many as 20 women may be crammed into a tiny space. 

The great majority of the women earn subsistence level incomes,
whether they work for a multinational corporation or a locally
owned factory. While corporate executives insist that their
wages are ample in view of lower standards of living, the
minimum wage in most East Asian countries comes nowhere near to
covering basic living costs. In the Philippines, starting wages
in U.S.-owned electronics plants are between $34 and $46 a
month; the basic cost of living is $37 a month for one person.
In Indonesia, the starting wages are about $7 less per month
than the basic cost of living. And that basic cost of living
means bare subsistence: a diet of rice, some dried fish and
water, lodging in a small room occupied by four or more people. 

Contrary to corporate belief, most women don't use their wages
to buy motor bikes and personal luxury items. Meager as their
wages are, most women are important wage earners for their
families. A 1970 study of young women factory workers in Hong
Kong showed that 88 percent were turning more than half their
earnings over to their parents. 

Subsistence wages are only part of the picture. Most women work
under conditions that can break their health or shatter their
nerves within a few years, often before they've worked long
enough to earn more than a subsistence wage. 

The price of factory work

Consider first the electronics industry, generally thought to be
the safest and cleanest of the export industries. Inside the
low, modern factory buildings, rows of young women, neatly
dressed in company uniforms or t-shirts, work quietly at their
stations. There is air conditioning, not for the women's
comfort, but to protect the delicate semiconductor parts they
work with. High-volume popular music is piped in to prevent

Electronics is near the top of a list prepared by the U.S.
National Institute on Occupational Safety and Health of high
health-risk industries. Open containers of dangerous
carcinogenic acids and solvents, giving off toxic fumes, are
commonplace in electronics factories. In a Hong Kong clinic
survey of workers who use chemicals, 48 percent had constant
headaches, 39 percent were often drowsy, and 36 percent had
frequent sore throats. 

Electronic companies require perfect vision in new employees,
but most women need glasses after a few years on the job. During
the bonding process, women peer through microscopes for seven to
nine hours a day attaching hair-like gold wires to silicon
chips. One study in South Korea found that most electronics
assembly workers developed eye problems after only one year of
employment. The companies treat these health complaints with
indifference. "These girls are used to working with the scopes.
We've found no eye problems. But it sure makes me dizzy to look
through those things," said a plant manager at Hewlett-Packard's
Malaysia operation. 

Women factory workers are in a precarious situation, treated
like temporary workers, always under the threat of layoffs. Sick
leave, holidays, and vacations are almost unheard of. A
probationary or apprenticeship period of six months or so,
during which pay is only three-quarters of the regular wage, is
common. By laying off workers just before the end of their
probation, companies save the expense of a full wage. Workers
are so used to this practice that they refer to themselves as
"permanent casuals."  

Stress and high anxiety permeate the women's work lives,
contributing to health problems. Most factories operate several
shifts, requiring workers to rotate day and night shifts every
week or two. These irregular schedules wreak havoc with sleep
patterns and foster nervous ailments and stomach disorders. When
production deadlines draw near or there are rush orders, women
may be forced to work overtime for as much as 48 hours at a
stretch without sleep. Management often provides pep pills and
amphetamine injections to keep the women awake and working; some
of the women have become addicts. 

Sexual harassment is another hazard of factory work, especially
for women who are out late at night working the graveyard shift.
In the Bataan Export Processing Zone in the Philippines, sexual
harassment is a common practice among male supervisors "We call
our company 'motel'," says a worker at Mattel, "because we are
often told to lay down or be laid off. It is hard to know what
to do when that happens because we can't afford to lose our

Company-sponsored recreational activities are designed to waylay
demands for job improvements. A U.S. plant manager in Malaysia
says, "We've developed recreation to a technique," with sewing
classes, monthly shoe sales, singing competition, and sports

Multinationals pit women against each other, not only as
workers, but also as sex objects, superimposing Western notions
of femininity and consumerism upon local cultural stereotypes.
Beauty contests are an integral part of factory life, with each
company sending its own beauty queen to the yearly "Miss Free
Trade Zone" contest. Bathing suit and "Guess-whose-legs-these-
are" contests are also popular. On pay day, vendors are often
let into factories to sell cosmetics (promoted in company-
sponsored cosmetics classes), jewelry, and other luxury items. 

Factory work does offer women some autonomy, earning power, and
freedom from parental control. But the price of this freedom may
be high. Because of their relative independence, Westernized
dress, and changed lifestyles, women may be rejected by their
families. "Factory girls," especially those living away from
their families in company dormitories or urban housing, are
thought to be "loose" sexually. They are often scorned by men as
unsuitable marriage partners. Although pressure to marry is
great, women have a harder time finding a mate after spending
their prime marriageable years in the factory. Competition among
the workers for eligible husbands is intense. 

Linked Hands

Women all over the world are becoming a giant reserve army of
labor at the disposal of globetrotting multinationals. No woman
can feel job security on the assembly line as long as the profit
motive guides multinational activities. Runaways are now
occurring within the Third World. Sri Lanka, which recently
opened an export processing zone, has become a haven for
companies fleeing labor militancy in South Korea and the

But some corporate strategists are suggesting that offshore
factories are no longer viable. An editor of Semiconductor
International argues that "if political turmoil begins to haunt
the world, especially in those areas where U.S. companies have
their assembly operations, it would be a disaster for the U.S.
semiconductor industry." The solution? Automated facilities in
the United States to assure cheap labor and stability. 

Automation without worker control and full employment is a
threat to women workers. In the electronics industry, women are
assembling the very components which may be used to make their
jobs and those of other women obsolete. Faced with sexual and
racial discrimination, women will be further hurt as remaining
technical and managerial jobs go mainly to white men. 

Another threat to women's jobs is the current world economic
crisis. During the recession of the mid-1970s, there were
massive layoffs of factory workers in the electronics industry.
In the present recession, a decline in world demand for consumer
goods is resulting in similar layoffs in Third World assembly
plants. In the Philippines many factories are going to a three
or four day schedule. Subcontracting arrangements between
multinationals and local Third World entrepreneurs are
proliferating as Western corporations seek greater flexibility
to change production rapidly in response to market gyrations 
without worrying about their own factories sitting idle (see p
8). For U.S. women, the world economic crisis has meant high
unemployment, falling real wages, and a rise in sweatshops and

When even low-paid jobs are hard to come by, it is especially
easy for companies to play off their employees against each
other. Women in a Tennessee garment factory are threatened with
competition from Mexican workers while women in the Philippines
are threatened with competition from Sri Lanka. It's a
competition in which all workers are losers: wages are driven
down everywhere, and health and safety conditions deteriorate,
but job security is never achieved. 

Rachel Grossman, a researcher who has studied women in Malaysia,
argues, "Protectionism and nationalist attitudes that view Third
World imports and workers as competition are lagging behind the
times. The international nature of production has been an
economic reality for some time now. Multinationals don't deal in
terms of individual countries, but on a global scale." 

One important strategy is to foster an information exchange
between Third World activists and their counterparts in the
industrialized countries. The most difficult, yet most important
task in confronting multinational domination, is to create
direct links between women workers around the world. 

It may take years before such international links are extensive
and powerful enough to successfully challenge multinational
corporations and the governments which support them, but women's
lives grow closer all the time. "We all have the same hard
life," wrote Min Chong Suk, a Korean garment worker. "We are
bound together with one string." 

Annette Fuentes, who researches and writes about women around
the world, lives in New York. Barbara Ehrenreich is a fellow at
the Institute for Policy Studies and a contributing editor to
Ms. magazine. 


Down on the border

by Maria Patricia Fernandez Kelly
with the collaboration of Pamela Wilson

Maria Patricia Fernandez Kelly is a social anthropologist
affiliated with the Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, University
of California, San Diego, and with the Centro de Estudios
Fronterizos del Norte de Mexico in Tijuana. Pamela Wilson
studies journalism at San Francisco State University.
Tijuana, Baja California is 15 miles from downtown San Diego,
and it only takes 10 minutes to drive from Ciudad Juarez,
Chihuahua to El Paso, Texas. Yet, crossing back and forth from
the two sets of cities involves a distance that cannot be
measured in miles. The U.S.-Mexico border is one of the longest-
-and certainly the busiest--in the world. It also separates the
most powerful center of advanced capitalism from a cluster of
developing nations to the south. Here prosperity meets squalor
and the symbols of progress intermingle with the paradoxes of
unequal distribution. 

Tijuana can be approached from San Diego on a neatly landscaped
four-lane freeway that halts abruptly at the San Ysidro check
point. Once in Mexico the visitor's perception is assaulted by
a juxtaposition of the archaic and modern. Peddlers push carts
of fresh fruit past glass-plated buildings. Suburban-style
shopping centers share city blocks with houses of scrap wood and
corrugated tin. And from their bleak adobe homes in the Colonia
Zacatecas, Ciudad Juarez's workers can view the splendor of
skyscrapers in the center of El Paso. 

But the U.S.-Mexico border is more than a boundary separating a
developed nation from a developing one. It is also a live stage
where broad international economic and political forces are
being played out. Negrete Street, in Tijuana is lined with
bakeries, pharmacies, car body shops, and food stands. Nestled
among them is the cream-colored facade of IMEC, a factory that
assembles electronic parts for several multinational
corporations including Xerox and TRW. Inside, over 100 workers,
mostly young women, lean over microscopes and perform the 
delicate but repetitious tasks that transform a silicon wafer
into a semiconductor. 

In Cuidad Juarez, within or outside modern industrial parks,
40,000 women work in similar assembly plants, some owned by the
subsidiaries of RCA, Sylvania, Motorola, United Technologies,
Chrysler, General Motors, Ford, General Electric, and National
Cash Register. As in the Far East, most women assemble
electronics while a smaller number of women manufacture apparel,
toys, decorative objects, and other light goods. They are all
part of the "maquiladora" program, a growing industrialization
effort started in 1965 by the Mexican government as a way of
stimulating growth along the depressed border. 

A rough translation for "maquiladora" is "grist mill," where a
farmer used to bring his grain for processing and have it
returned to him. In the maquiladora plants, American and other
companies bring their materials to Mexico, assemble them, and
then send them back to the U.S. for either further assembly or

At present there are almost 700 maquiladoras, the majority
located along Mexico's northern border. They hire close to
200,000 people, 85 percent of them young, single women who are
the main providers for their families. Maquiladoras form the
fastest expanding sector of the Mexican economy, outpacing even
petroleum-related activities and tourism. They produce 10.7
percent of total exports and 25 percent of manufactured exports.
It is not surprising that government officials consider
maquiladoras a key element in Mexico's development strategy. 

The Mexican government offers attractive incentives for the
establishment of maquiladoras. These include granting foreign
companies 100 percent ownership, and exception to the standard
requirement that businesses be at least 51 percent Mexican-
owned. Foreign companies are also allowed to own and lease land
through trust agreements with Mexican banks. In addition, the
customs code has been repeatedly modified to permit businesses
to bring in machinery, raw materials, and components on a
temporary basis, as long as they are used exclusively to
assemble exportable goods. Since 1972 these provisos, originally
restricted to a narrow border belt, have been extended to cover
all of Mexico with few exceptions. 

Several peso devaluations in Mexico over the last year have made
the pool of cheap labor even cheaper. From January 1982 to
September 1982, the cost of a worker's monthly wages to foreign
employers shrank by more than half from $323 to $156. At the
same time, steep inflation has cut back workers' buying power.
The drop in labor costs places Mexico on the same level as Hong
Kong and Taiwan and, despite the U.S. recession, foreign
investment in the Mexican border continues to expand steadily.
Some 121 new plants have opened in the three main border cities
since last year. 

Besides a preference for cheap labor, many companies also
display a keen appreciation for the benefits of political
stability and the absence of labor organization. In Mexico
managers speak about highly cooperative official unions whose
leaders "don't want to alienate us and kill the goose that lays
the golden eggs." 

What do these trends mean for national and international
development? The opinion of local businessmen is well
represented by a manager of a Ciudad Juarez maquiladora: "We
have brought a second industrial revolution to the U.S.-Mexico
border and women have gained the most." Indeed, as a result of
their employment in maquiladoras and export processing zones
located in other parts of the Third World, hundreds of women
have direct access to income for the first time. 

Maquiladoras, in general, have been unable to provide jobs for
men. In Ciudad Juarez, the majority of industrial workers live
with unemployed or underemployed brothers, husbands, and
fathers. Many of them are forced to cross the border as
undocumented aliens after they are unable to find jobs on
Mexican soil. According to corporate representatives, the
establishment of maquiladoras in high unemployment areas is far
from coincidental. The general manager of the General Electric
subsidiary in Ciudad Juarez states that "thanks to the high
rates of unemployment and underemployment which in this city
reach above 30 percent, we can be very selective with the
personnel we hire. "  

Selectivity of this kind translates into discriminatory hiring
policies that give preference to young, inexperienced female
workers who are unmarried and childless. In Ciudad Juarez, RCA
advertises in daily newspapers for workers between 16 and 25
years of age, single, childless, with six to ten years of
schooling, and with a minimum six months residence in the city.
Women who fit this very specific profile may be found working in
electrical and electronics plants. The majority last an average
of three years on the job. They are easily replaceable. 

Davis Lucas, the vice president for finance at IMEC, a typical
electronics plant in Tijuana, states that young women are hired
for assembly work because of their "dexterity and patience" and
because "most quit when they get married." But as a young
maquiladora worker told me, "I have to be patient, you see, I
have my brothers and sisters and parents to support. I am the
only one who has a job in the house." 

Older women who are married or have children to support cannot
compete in this sector. They end up in garment shops that
operate as cutthroat subcontractors where conditions are worse
and the pace of work even more intense. Research also shows that
many women who have worked in their youth in electronics
maquiladoras must seek jobs at a later point in life in garment

Ophelia, a 31-year-old mother of six, several years ago told the
poignant story of her search for a job. "I need a job. My
husband left me. He crossed to the other side. Only God knows
where he is! Sometimes he sends me money because his cousin
reminds him he has a family to support. But I can't count on

"They say there are lots of jobs for women in Ciudad Juarez, but
I can't vow for it. It's been tough for us. Maybe it's because
of the new requirements. Now they want you to be a secundaria
graduate. I thought, I hoped that with luck, I might find a job
in a garment factory. But neither [my friend nor I] has had any
luck. Maybe we should say that we are single. Maybe we should
lie and say that we have only one child. But then the rest
wouldn't be entitled to medical care once we got the job." 

Thus, the personal history of maquiladora workers shows a
trajectory of downward mobility. This runs counter to the
impressions of businessmen and public officials who erroneously
assume that women's income is supplementary and, therefore, an
indication of higher living standards. In fact, women look for
jobs partly compelled by the scarcity of jobs available to men
in their own households. For them, wage employment is a sign of
vulnerability, not of strength. 

Henry Esparza, director of the brokerage firm Assemble in Mexico
is convinced that "Mexico is now, for U.S. companies, the most
correct place for investment worldwide." Mexico's proximity to
North American markets significantly reduces transportation and
management costs and electricity is half as expensive. Firms can
also expect to raise productivity 10 to 50 percent by locating
there. Esparza attributes this to what he calls "built-in
incentives"--because there are no unemployment benefits or
welfare in Mexico, workers strive harder on the job. 

However, productivity gains are also the result of global
industrial reorganization, with the fragmentation of production
tasks into small units that can be easily performed in separate
geographical areas. 

Although maquiladora jobs are not difficult to learn, practice
and speed are necessary to fulfil production quotas. Women work
in stress-laden environments that often affect their health
negatively. Along the U.S.-Mexico border, workers complaints
range from respiratory difficulties, the result of inadequately
ventilated factories, to skin irritations produced through
contact with dangerous chemicals, as well as nervous disorders
related to high levels of noise and constant pressure to meet
productivity requirements. 

It is easy to see why maquiladoras have high rates of turnover.
The absence of promotions and wage raises do not create long-
term alternatives, nor do they modify women's tendency to see
themselves primarily as wives and mothers. When they leave their
jobs, they often do so hoping to form independent households. 

Employers see the transfer of assembly operations to several
different locations as a strategy for diversifying economic and
political risk. One manager frankly states that "if we have
technical troubles here [Ciudad Juarez] or if there are
disturbances of any kind, we can always move part of our
operations to our facilities in Hong Kong." 

Hired by local intermediaries for impersonal corporations whose
headquarters may be located in New York, Silicon Valley, or
Tokyo, workers throughout the world face major difficulties in
trying to bargain with employers. Claims and demands can be
easily crushed by a decision to close up shop and move to still
other countries where wages are lower or political conditions
even more favorable. In the age of the internationalization of
corporate power the best alternative for large-scale
organization is the formation of international unions. 

Workers in Mexico are also seeking alternatives to reach beyond
their limited experience. For example, the Centro de Orientacion
de la Mujer Obrera (COMO) of Ciudad Juarez serves as focal point
for vocational training. Working-class women have made COMO into
an instrument of self-education for maquiladora women workers
who lack information about their legal rights, possess little
job mobility, and have few ways to voice grievances. Inspired to
some extent by the teachings of the Brazilian educator Paulo
Freire who conceives of education as a holistic process, COMO
offers courses that raise skills and heighten consciousness
about the challenges faced by working women in an international

Perhaps more importantly, COMO has transformed many maquiladora
workers into leaders and cooperative organizers in the city and
in the countryside. COMO's director, Guillermina Valdes Villalva
explains, "Ours is a tightly woven world. Women can't solve
their problems nor can they be of use to their communities
unless they learn to see themselves as part of an expanding
world. Capitalists have understood this. Now it's the turn of 
workers to respond in kind." 


Women fight back

South Korea

Who has provided the inspiration for an independent labor
movement in South Korea? Contrary to common stereotypes that
male workers are tough and female workers pliable, it is the
women-led unions which have shown the most courageous
leadership--through dramatic hunger strikes, sit-ins, and
demonstrations to obtain better working conditions and livable
wages. They have encountered harsh government repression, been
beaten and repeatedly imprisoned, and throughout it all, kept
the hope alive that South Korea may someday become democratic,
both economically and politically. 

A look at the role of women in the South Korean export-oriented
economy makes clear why women feel so desperate for change.
Because the country is relatively resource poor, inexpensive
labor has been the chief drawing card for foreign multinationals
and the primary factor in competitively priced export products. 

The largest export industries are textiles and electronics and
the majority of their workers are women. Radio Shack, Motorola,
and Fairchild are among more than 120 U.S. corporations which
have direct investments in South Korea. Large retailers like
Sears, Montgomery Ward, and Macy's buy garments sewn by workers
earning one-fifth the wages paid in the U.S. 

Women have borne the brunt of South Korea's low wage system. The
average wage paid to women employed in the larger firms in South
Korea is 67 cents per hour, less than half the salaries paid to
men. Women work ten more hours per month than men, averaging 59
hours per week, the longest work week in the world. 

Although worker's real income has not risen in recent years,
nominal wages have reflected the rapid inflation of the South
Korean economy, making Korean wages less competitive
internationally. The military-based government, by banning
strikes and strongly suppressing the labor movement, has
appeared frantic in its efforts to keep workers from increasing
their wages. 

In response to government pressures, however, the labor movement
actually increased its militancy in the 1970s, inspired largely
by the work of Lee So Sun and her Peace Market Garment Union.
The Peace Market is a collection of over 1,000 small clothing
factories employing up to 20,000 young women. In 1970, Lee So
Sun's son burned himself to death to protest the terrible
working conditions in the Peace Market. Lee So Sun struggled
over the next decade to create a strong Peace Market Union. 

Starting with classes for workers, she was able to develop
effective union leadership. Though protests, sit-ins, and fasts
the union managed by 1976 to raise wages 30 percent. In 1977 Lee
So Sun was arrested and jailed a year for labor organizing.

In April 1980, during a period of relative freedom from
repression after the death of South Korea's dictator, Park Chung
Hee, 150 Peace Market workers went on a hunger strike. After ten
days, the workers won a major victory when the management agreed
to an average wage hike of 29 percent and the introduction of a
severance pay system. 

When General Chun Doo Hwan seized power in a military coup in
May 1980, he moved quickly against the labor movement. Chun
banned national trade unions and blocked from leadership any
workers who had a criminal record or who had committed
"misdeeds." Since it is illegal to strike in South Korea, all
workers who had taken collective action before Chun came to
power became ineligible for union posts. The government set up
committees in companies across the country with instructions to
fire "impure elements." The leadership of militant unions was
nearly gutted. 

On January 21, 1981, personnel from the Anti-Communist Bureau of
the National Police and from the Office of Military Security
came to the Peace Market Union's office and demanded that the
union disband. The next day 500 military troops surrounded the
area, effectively shutting down the union.

The Peace Market workers, desperate to keep their union, turned
to the Asian American Free Labor Institute (AAFLD), the AFL-CIO
organization that is 94 percent funded by the U.S. Agency for
International Development. An attempt to force a meeting with
AAFLI officials, who had evaded the workers' entreaties,
resulted in a confrontation with police. Three workers were
injured and seven union activists, including Lee So Sun, were

From time to time AAFLI had provided financial support to the
Peace Market union, perhaps because of its symbolic importance.
However, AAFLI has generally steered clear of aggressive unions
in South Korea, choosing instead to work through the Federation
of Korean Trade Unions, which over the years has cooperated
closely with, indeed has been controlled by, the government. 

A second women-led struggle that illustrates the obstacles faced
by workers in South Korea took place at Control Data
Corporation. This American computer company moved to South Korea
in 1967 and at one point employed nearly 1,000 women to assemble
computer chips under powerful microscopes.

Both in 1970 and 1975, in order to keep wages down and weaken
the union, the company fired most of its workforce. It then
rehired many of the same workers at entry level pay. Over the
years this American company worked closely with the South Korean
government, at one point organizing one of Chun Doo Hwan's
"purification" committees at the plant.

During wage negotiations in March 1982, this committee ordered
the dismissal of six women, all past or present union officers.
In the following weeks, the union mounted a campaign for
rehiring these workers. Because strikes are banned, they held an
after hours sit-in at the company cafeteria. Control Data
management responded by blocking food supplies and turning on
the plant's cooling system to freeze and starve the workers out.

Again and again in South Korea, companies faced by strong women-
led unions have worked to pit male technical and supervisory
staff against female workers. Control Data was no exception. On
July 16, 1982 non-union male workers mercilessly beat female
union members, while company officials looked on (see MM, Sept.

Less than a week later Control Data permanently closed down its
plant, charging that "advances in technology have virtually
eliminated the need for the products being manufactured at the

After the Control Data union was destroyed by the plant closing,
only one democratically elected union remained in South Korea,
at the Wuonpoong Textile Company, a subsidiary of the Kukje
conglomerate. By 1976 Wuonpoong's women-led union had gained the
best wages and working conditions in the textile industry. 

In 1980 all 16 of the union's Executive Committee members were
fired by the company "purification" committee. In 1981, in an
effort to break the union, the company refused all collective
bargaining and stopped hiring workers, shrinking the workforce
through attrition. In September 1982, gangs of men from other
Kukje companies attacked union members in their office,
seriously injuring four women. The union president was picked up
by plainclothesmen, beaten for four hours, and dumped
unconscious in the outskirts of Seoul. 

To protest, 600 women occupied the Wuonpoong factory in a sit-in
hunger strike, demanding reinstatement of their officers. Police
and gangs of men stormed the factory, resulting in the
hospitalization of 100 women. These actions, with company
reprisals, finally drove union leaders underground. 

Despite the courage and commitment of these women workers in
South Korea, how can they stand against the combined power of
the companies and the government? Over the last decade there has
been increasing awareness in South Korea that workers in
different industries must support each other's struggles or see
their efforts crushed one by one. The government has cracked
down so strongly against labor because the combined efforts of
workers poses one of the greatest threats to its continued rule. 

Maud and David Easter work with the Committee for a New Korea
Policy in Albany, New York. 



Years of militarization and a worsening economic situation
throughout the Philippines have fuelled a popular resistance
movement. A strong force within this movement has been women
workers, many employed by multinational corporations. 

The story of Dynetics, Inc., a semiconductor firm based in
California, provides a classic example of the miserable working
conditions for women in the Philippines which have sparked
collective resistance. One of twenty-six operating semiconductor
plants in the Philippines, 95 percent of Dynetics' employees are
women. Dynetics hit the headlines several months ago when an
epidemic of anemia and hematoma broke out among company
employees. The worker association issued a paper protesting
conditions at the plant. The effort to meet quota standards, the
group said, aggravates a variety of physical problems including
fatigue, chest pains, migraines, and complicates already-serious
health problems resulting from prolonged exposure to chemicals
and toxic substances. In addition, "most of the women workers
handling microscopes after two to three years no longer possess
good eye vision, thereby laying the grounds for their layoffs,"
the group stated. 
Faced with such conditions, women workers have joined peasants,
nurses, teachers, and students to fight for their rights and
dignities as productive members of society. Particularly in the
industrial sector have women taken the initiative to organize. 

One of the most dramatic of these protests occurred in June
1982, when the first big general strike ever held in a Third
World free trade zone took place in Bataan, the largest export
processing zone in the Philippines which houses such firms as
Mattel, Ford, and the English rubber company, Dunlop. 

The strike began as a walkout against a Japanese-owned company,
and quickly spread throughout the zone. By the third day of the
action, over 10,000 workers had walked out of the zone
factories. The government and the company were forced to rehire
all striking workers and reduce the workload at the Japanese

The workers' movement throughout the country was given a
tremendous boost by this show of strength and solidarity. The
government retaliated several weeks later by issuing an order
prohibiting strikes in the semiconductor industry and arresting
more than 200 labor organizers. 

Women workers have organized similar actions in recent years
despite repression. Actions in early 1982 demanding higher
wages, shorter hours, and better fringe benefits included: a
strike of 200 workers at Viron Garments Manufacturing; a strike
of 300 workers at McCoa Industries; and a protest of 1,800
workers at Ricoh Watch. 

In November 1981, 450 employees (mostly women) staged a nine-
month strike at a well-known Manila-based jewelry establishment
to demand reasonable increases in wages and better working
conditions. On November 29 strikebreakers attacked the striking
workers' picket line. Instead of relying on police, the women
formed a marshal group from among themselves, equipped with riot
helmets and shields. 

In a November 1981 strike at the Redson Textile Manufacturing
Corporation--the number two exporter of t-shirts from the
Philippines--all but 20 workers walked off the job until
management recognized their union which had won a union campaign
over the government-controlled or "yellow" union in 1979. In
September 1982, the union picketed the factory to protest the
layoff of 600 workers while union leaders, all women, negotiated
with management until they agreed to rehire all workers.
However, management has still not signed a collective bargaining
agreement with the union and is trying to divide the workers by
suspending active union leaders, instituting layoffs, rotating
shifts, and staggering rest days. 

Women workers have not limited their actions to strikes. Labor
organizers from the free trade zones organized a December 1982
workshop to consider the problems of women workers, addressing
themselves to wages and working conditions, sexual harassment on
the job, family constraints and responsibilities, feudalistic
male attitudes, building solidarity among women workers, and
developing more women labor organizers. They also discussed
strategy for ensuring that women workers' issues are
incorporated into the agenda of labor unions. Women make up only
26.8 percent of the almost 50,000 trade unionists in the
Philippines, according to a 1979 government study. 

In Manila, women workers from a number of textile and
electronics factories have undertaken plans to set up a Center
for Women Workers. The Center would provide reading and study
materials on the situation and activities of women workers in
other countries. It would also serve to build support and
solidarity among women workers in the Philippines, and to build
links with women in other countries. 

This article is based on reports by Sagrario Floro and Marilee
Karl. Ms. Floro, a graduate student at Stanford University, is
writing a thesis on the Philippines. 


Are multinationals the problem? 


by Lindu Lim

This article has been excerpted from a paper, "Multinational
Export Factories and Women Workers in the Third World: A Review
of Theory and Evidence," presented by the author at a conference
organized by the Center for the Study, Education, and
Advancement of Women at the University of California, Herkeley
in April 1983. The full length version of the paper will be
published in a volume of conference proceedings.  

Multinationals investing in developing countries largely take
existing labor market conditions as given. 

They do not create such observed features of women's employment
as low wages and high labor turnover. If anything, multinational
export factories pay higher wages and have better working
conditions than alternative domestic occupations open to the
women who work in them, particularly than indigenous competitors
in labor-intensive export industries. The increased demand for
female labor generated by multinational factories raises
prevailing market wages and increases employment opportunities
for women, such that the multinational is frequently accused in
the same breath of paying wages which are "too low" for workers
and "too high" for indigenous employers to match. 

Even where the wage in multinational export factories is lower
than domestic alternatives--such as prostitution in Thailand,
rubber tapping in Malaysia, and domestic service in Singapore--
it is frequently a preferred form of employment among women,
because of better status and working conditions. Because of
institutionalized seniority wage increases, as well as mandated
fringe benefits, in formal factory employment, wages for long-
term workers are often higher than in informal service sector
jobs, wage-labor in export agriculture, and other unskilled and
semi-skilled male or female occupations. 

In any case, low wages are only one and not necessarily the most
important factor influencing the decisions of multinational
export factories to locate in a country. In Southeast Asia, for
example, the earliest and still most popular offshore sites for
labor-intensive multinational factories were Hong Kong and
Singapore, whose prevailing wages are and have remained much
higher than those of neighboring countries which have been
equally if not more welcoming to multinationals. These other
costs and considerations include location, infrastructure, and
local political and economic conditions. 

Moreover, political repression, military .rule, U.S. aid, and
authoritarian capitalism--though in some (not all) cases
correlated with (not caused by) multinational investment in
labor-intensive export manufacturing--are neither necessary nor
sufficient for this type of investment, or for the economic
success of the countries which host it. 

If multinationals are not--directly, by lowering wage levels, or
indirectly, by influencing host governments to be repressive of
labor--responsible for the low wages of women workers in
developing countries, who or what is? 

The primary cause of women's weak labor market position in
developing countries is the weak and underdeveloped nature of
their national economies, resulting in weak labor demand. It is
this weak development of productive forces--whatever its causes-
-which results in a large (as much as tenfold or more) national
wage difference between developed and developing countries. This
is much more important that the sex wage difference within the
developing country, which is about half to one-third, and which
is a secondary cause of low wages in multinational factories.
This sex wage difference reflects female subordination and the
sexual division of labor in indigenous society, particularly the
constraints of the female/mother role which results in the short
job tenure, low seniority, and hence low average wages of women
workers. In these as in other predominantly female occupations,
women quit when they marry and have children. Neither the
national or the sex wage difference is the specific
responsibility of these multinationals, though they take
advantage of and in some cases may even reinforce them. 
A widely accepted criticism of multinationals argues that the
wages paid in multinational export factories are so low that
they are insufficient to cover in some cases even the minimum
physical subsistence of workers employed in very intensive
tasks, so they become quickly "exhausted." But the evidence in
the literature itself shows that not only do the vast majority
of workers cover their own physical subsistence and basic needs
of food, housing, clothing and transportation, they have enough
left over for small luxuries, savings, and contributions to
their families. 

As for "exhaustion," there is no evidence that either hours
worked or the intensity of work in multinational export
factories are greater than in equivalent unskilled or semi-
skilled female occupations in the developing host country.
Health hazards are probably worse in multinational factories
because of the use of chemicals and machinery in modern
industrial technology. 

High labor turnover, sometimes deduced as "evidence" of
"exhaustion," in fact reflects the influence of the sexual
division of labor in indigenous society, which assigns women
full responsibility for the family and household role. Most of
the women workers who quit multinational export factories do so
not because they are physically or mentally exhausted--with the
possible exception of new recruits who are both paid lower
"probationary" wages and are less used to the type of labor
required--but rather to marry and have children. Few quit to
look for other, presumably less "exhausting" jobs. There is also
no evidence that women factory workers retire sooner than women
in other predominantly female occupations, such as self-
employment or family labor which can often be more flexibly
scheduled. Rather, the evidence suggests that employment for
women in multinational export factories prolongs their working
life and delays marriage and childbearing--presumably because it
is less compatible with family responsibilities than more
flexible traditional women's occupations. 

What about the security of employment, given all that is said
about the "footlooseness," and "runaway" behavior of export
industries? The evidence indicates that so far at least--and in
some countries this is as many as ten or twenty years--
multinational footlooseness among developing countries is much
less common than a few highly-publicized cases might suggest.
When firms do relocate, this is usually due to reasons other
than the commonly cited rising wages or expiring tax holidays--
for example, corporate takeover or reorganization of the parent
company, business failure of the company or of a particular
division of product-line, or extreme political and economic
insecurity in the host nation. 

Whereas multinationals may use their potential or actual
mobility to discipline workers in their developed home country,
in developing countries they are just as likely to emphasize
that they are "here to stay" and to publicize reinvestments as
a sign of their commitment to the host country--if only to win
favor with the host government and perhaps to obtain more tax

Layoffs, pull-outs, and plant shutdowns are no more frequent
among multinational than among indigenous export factories--
which are if anything more vulnerable to recessions and more
likely to shut down from business failure. They merely attract
more attention because multinational subsidiaries are much
larger than local firms. 

From a global viewpoint, more jobs have probably been created in
developing countries, where production is more labor-intensive,
than have been lost in developed countries as a result of
relocation. There is also a positive shift in income
redistribution, since employment has shifted to the poorest
workers in the world--women in the Third World, whose income and
employment opportunities and access to public social security
support are far inferior to those available to displaced workers
in the developed countries. There is no reason why Third World
women should be denied jobs which workers in the developed
countries either refuse to do, or are so keen to preserve for
themselves, and which are better than other women's jobs in the
Third World. Employment created for women is also no less
valuable than employment created for men. 

Multinational employers are frequently accused of using
psychological manipulation and cultural indoctrination to
control workers and keep them weak and unorganized.
Multinationals do indeed engage in various devious labor
practices. But it should be noted that workers often support,
enjoy, and themselves initiate the organization of such "Western
bourgeois feminine" cultural activities as fashion and make-up
classes, beauty contests, and formal dinners with ballroom and
disco dancing. "Factory culture," and factory workers' tastes
and aspirations are little different from the pervasive urban
modern culture and other young women's aspirations in the
indigenous society beyond this sector. 

Further, any cultural indoctrination by multinational employers
has not been successful in buying workers' complacency. Women
workers in these factories are in many cases highly organized-
often with rates of unionization surpassing those found
elsewhere in the host or even the home economy. They recognize
exploitation, and especially in repressive states like South
Korea and the Philippines, are militant, radical, with strong
grassroots organization, and frequently initiate labor actions
such as go-slows, sit-ins, and strikes, even where they are
forbidden and punishable by law. 

What is the impact of multinational factory employment on
women's position in the family and indigenous society? It has
been argued that this employment does not offer women in the
Third World more than an at best temporary, superficial, and
illusory liberation from male domination in their own families
and societies, and may even reinforce such domination. However,
it does improve their lives--increasing their freedom,
independence, worth, status, contribution to family support, and
access to experience outside the family, to small luxuries, and
the companionship of other women--all of which are highly valued
by the women themselves. It also enables young women to delay
marriage and childbearing, and to choose their own marriage
partners. As more women continue working after marriage, the
traditional sexual division of labor within the family changes.
Working wives and husbands increasingly share the power and
responsibilities of housework, childcare and family financial

Export factory employment accounts for only a small proportion
of female wage employment in developing host countries, even
within the urban-industrial sector alone. In fact, in
quantitative terms, multinational export manufacturing in the
Third World is a phenomenon of small significance for
multinationals, for export manufacturing, for developing
countries, and for women, and hardly qualifies as a major new
international division of labor. 

In sum, I argue that the actual experience of multinational
export manufacturing in the Third World is a more complex one
than most critics have acknowledged with the Third World state,
Third World capital, Third World women workers, the Third World
domestic economy, and Third World indigenous patriarchal systems
having a more autonomous and important role to play in
determining the occurrence, form, and impact of this
multinational investment and employment. 

The phenomenon of multinational employment of Third World women
in export factories can be, and, the evidence suggests, in many
cases is progressive, both in the Marxist sense of furthering
class consciousness and in the feminist sense of weakening
female subordination and the sexual division of labor in
indigenous Third World societies. Third World women workers both
benefit from their employment in multinationals, and use it to
organize themselves and take action as a class against
capitalist exploitation. Far from being pushed into society's
margins by their employment, they are integrated into the modern
industrial workforce more than other women, and than most men,
in the host country, and in some cases may even function as a
progressive "vanguard." 

This view implies a shift away from the common belief among
progressives that multinational export manufacturing should be
prevented or removed from the Third World. This is an inherently
unprogressive strategy if it takes place in the absence of
offering concrete alternatives for women's employment for it
will undermine women's already tenuous economic position, remove
a focal point for organizing workers against corporate power in
general and multinational corporate power in particular, and
reinforce indigenous patriarchy by yielding to the pressures of
conservative groups--such as fundamentalist male religious
leaders--in the Third World who are opposed to women's
employment outside the home, especially in foreign factories
which might expose them to sexually liberating alien cultures. 

This does not mean that no improvements can or should be made in
the position of Third World women workers in multinational
export factories, only that they should be attempted in the
context of three interrelated progressive struggles. The first
is a struggle to develop the national economy and create more
jobs for both men and women--including by means of socialist
revolution if that is historically appropriate, and bearing in
mind that socialist countries like China also can and do host
labor-intensive export-oriented manufacturing industries. The
second is a struggle to enhance workers' consciousness,
organization, and action, and to improve their wages and working
conditions, especially health and safety conditions--which is
already going on in multinational export factories. The third is
a struggle to reduce sexual inequalities in the ideological
superstructure and production relations of indigenous society
and economy; this struggle is currently the weakest of the

Labor-intensive export manufacturing by multinationals is not
the best or the only context in which these national, class and
feminist struggles can or should proceed, but neither is it the
worst or the most important. Wittingly or unwittingly, directly
or indirectly, actively or passively, the multinational may well
have a progressive role to play in these struggles, depending on
specific local historical conditions. Women workers in the Third
World already recognize and exploit the contradictions and the
progressive aspects of their employment by these multinationals-
-a reality which radical and feminist critics ignore at the
peril of being, not only wrong, but irrelevant to the cause of
those they would champion. 

Linda Lim, a researcher associated with the Center for South and
Southeast Asian Studies at the University of Michigan in Ann
Arbor, is currently in Singapore. 


A debate. 


by David O'Connor and Chia Siew Wong 

The value of Lim's thesis consists principally in its attempt to
right the imbalance in those analyses that attribute more power
and influence to multinational corporations than they actually
possess, and virtually no power to Third World governments and
the women employed by multinationals. But, while recognition of
the control Third World women workers possess both individually
and collectively over their work lives is long overdue, the
extent of and limits to that control must also be acknowledged. 

1. Labor repression 

In many developing countries, export manufacturing firms enjoy
the protection of repressive labor legislation and strict
governmental control over union activities. Third World
governments frequently justify such measures by the need to
contain a threat to internal security and, in a perverse sense,
that explanation may be plausible. These governments have staked
their credibility on the success of export-oriented
industrialization. The linchpin of that strategy remains cheap,
docile labor. Thus any attempt by workers in export industries--
who are, of course, mostly women--to obtain higher wages and
better working conditions is a threat to the political regime.
Only by understanding this does the decree issued by the
Philippine government last year make sense; that decree banned
strikes in the semiconductor industry on the ground that the
industry is vital to the "national interest" (see MM, Sept.

2. Capital mobility 

Export manufacturing multinationals may use both the promise of
further investment and the threat of withdrawal as inducements
to host country governments to maintain a favorable investment
climate. Even if infrequently acted upon, the threat remains
especially credible since export manufacturing multinationals
are not bound to any specific location for reasons of market
access or access to raw materials. 

When the Malaysian government permitted the formation of a union
for electronics workers earlier this year, one major U.S.
electronics firm hinted that it might choose to expand
elsewhere. When workers at Control Data Corporation in South
Korea protested the firing of six union members last year and
occupied the factory, the management closed the plant and left
Korea (see p. 12). Atari's February 1983 announcement that it
was moving parts of its California production lines to Hong Kong
and Taiwan must be seen in this light as well.  

In a further example, an increasing number of young women
working in export factories on the Mexican border have received
organizing training at a local labor education center. So a
number of firms have begun to hire much older women who have not
been exposed to the center's ideas. Thus, multinationals are not
wedded to fixed ways of behaving, but are adaptable to changing
We agree that the experience shared by both Third World women
and their counterparts in the advanced capitalist countries of
working outside the home in wage employment may in certain
respects be liberating. To the extent that the traditional
social relations in many Third World countries can be
characterized as "feudal," Third World women may experience an
even greater sense of liberation than those in advanced
capitalist countries. The financial freedom of having one's own
income as well as the widening of one's circle of social
contacts are generally regarded as positive consequences of
factory employment. 

In the context of a patriarchal and feudal society, however,
workers may continue to view their work experience through the
refracting prism of traditional societal values. Far from
developing a feminist or class consciousness, women workers may
feel a sense of gratitude and indebtedness to their employers
for providing them with a paying job. 

In this sense, Lim is correct in stating that the effect of
factory employment on Third World women's consciousness is
strongly conditioned by the broader social, political, and
economic context in which that employment occurs. It seems
highly likely that a woman factory worker's attitude toward her
work will be different in a labor-short economy like Singapore
than in a labor-surplus economy like the Philippines. In the
former, she may very well be only a secondary wage earner in a
family in which one or more other family members also have full-
time employment. In the latter it is frequently the case that
the woman factory worker is the sole regular wage earner. By
implication, the woman factory worker is apt to be less
concerned not only about her wages but also about the security
of her employment in the former than in the latter. 

Similarly, the differing political conditions in countries like
Singapore and the Philippines have an important effect on
women's perceptions of their work experience. In Singapore, the
government has effectively depoliticized the labor force and the
society as a whole through comprehensive social legislation
which has distributed through virtually all levels of society
some of the benefits of rapid economic growth. Not only has the
Philippine economy shown lackluster performance in recent years,
but what growth has occurred has definitely not "trickled down"
to the working classes. On the contrary, the average factory
worker's real wages have declined sharply over the last decade
of export-led growth. 

Small wonder then that women workers in the Philippines have
proven more receptive than their Singaporean counterparts to
radical analyses of their economic and social problems. 

Still, even a society like Singapore is not immune to political
upheaval. The government's ability to "buy" labor and social
peace in the future will depend critically on its success in
continuing to attract foreign investment and sustain high rates
of economic growth as it shifts its industrial strategy from a
labor-intensive to a capital- and skill-intensive one. If the
gamble on high tech growth should not pay off, the government
may no longer be able to finance its policy of labor cooptation.
Should severe unemployment and wage cuts affect the domestic
labor force, industrial sabotage could well occur in the absence
of alternative avenues for expressing worker dissatisfaction. 

In sum, Lim has stressed the importance of specific historical,
economic, political, and cultural circumstances in conditioning
the relationship between Third World women workers and their
multinational employers. While agreeing with its spirit, we seek
to temper the discussion of the "liberating" potential of the
work experience of Third World women with an appreciation of the
constraints imposed upon their individual and collective actions
by the nature of the firms for which they work and the global
system in which those firms compete. Similarly, we seek to
illustrate how host country governments, while motivated by
concerns broader than the service of corporate investors, are
nonetheless constrained to pursue policies tailored to the needs
of those investors. The political legitimacy, or even the
stability, of regimes may hinge on the fate of export-led
industrialization. To those regimes, survival requires the
subjugation of women workers' interests to those of
multinational corporations. 

David O 'Connor is an economist specializing in Southeast Asia
development. Chia Siew Wong is a Singaporean research
consultant. Both have worked as consultants to the United
Nations Centre on Transnational Corporations. 


Immigrants: the latest return on U.S. investment 

by Saskia Sassen-Koob

Over the last fifteen years, Third World women have been
incorporated into the workforce as employees of multinational
and national firms on a scale that represents a new phase in the
history of women. Two simultaneous trends have contributed to
this development: the expansion of export manufacturing
industries abroad and the massive increase in immigration into
the U.S. 

These two trends have rarely been viewed as related. But there
are a number of important links. Both immigration and overseas
production provide corporations with a low-wage labor force and
with a weapon to fight the demands of organized workers in the
U.S. Businesses that cannot move overseas and must operate where
the demand is, e.g. restaurants and hospitals, can employ
immigrants while businesses that are able to move abroad can
employ low-wage workers in developing countries. But there is
another, more basic connection. The same set of processes that
have promoted the location of plants and offices abroad also
have generated a large supply of low wage jobs in the U.S. for
which immigrant workers are generally hired. 

One indication of the connection is that the main immigrant-
producing countries have been the same countries receiving high
levels of U.S. investment in manufacturing. For example, U.S.
Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) statistics show
that South Korea and the Philippines, both countries with heavy
U.S. investment in manufacturing, sent 220,000 and 335,000
immigrants to the U.S., respectively, between 1970 and 1979. By
contrast, Indonesia, a country that receives little U.S.
investment in manufacturing, sent only 6,000 immigrants during
those ten years. 

But this is a curious phenomenon, for immigrants leave behind
economies where, according to United Nations figures, annual
employment rates grew by an average of six to seven percent
during the 1970s and migrate to developed countries with
depressed annual employment growth rates of about .4 percent. 

The Uprooting of People

Presuming many people migrate in search of better employment
opportunities, how can the high level of emigration from these
countries be explained? 

The growth of trade and investment and the spread of modern
forms of production have disrupted traditional, non-wage forms
of work, such as farming and craft making. The expansion of
export manufacturing and export agriculture in developing
countries, stimulated by foreign investment from industrialized
countries, has pushed new segments of the population into
regional and long-distance migrations. 

With the introduction of commercial agriculture, small farmers
are pushed off the land and left without means of subsistence.
Many of the men, and often their families, emigrate from rural
areas to urban areas in search of paid employment. 

In the case of export manufacturing, industries recruit young
women from the rural areas for newly-created maquiladora-type
jobs. Unemployed wage workers, mostly men, are not hired. This
disrupts traditional social and work settings, for the departure
of a young woman means the loss of a key worker producing for
the household and often for the local market. It also means the
loss of potential mates for young men in a situation where mates
are partners vital to the traditional way of life. This causes
men to emigrate along with some women family members who were
not drawn into the export factories. 
At the same time, the high turnover rates in the free trade
zones and the strong preference for women aged 16 to 23 has
contributed to growing unemployment among women. Western
cultural influences on zone workers together with the disruption
of their traditional role in the household minimize the chance
that a laid off woman worker will return to her rural home.
Emigration emerges as an option precisely because the Western
influence and strong foreign presence create in women workers
psychological and other links with the U.S. The fact that these
women apply their labor day after day to goods or services
geared to the U.S. market is not lost on the workers. Many grow
to feel capable of doing the same jobs in the U.S. It is
interesting to note that more than half the Asian immigrants
over the last decade are women from countries with heavy export
manufacturing and other forms of U.S. influence. For example,
INS figures show that 61 percent of immigrants from both the
Philippines and South Korea were women, the large majority
between the ages of 20 and 29. 

Hence, the disruptive effects of multinational presence in
developing countries can be seen as stimulating emigration of
both former female factory workers and women travelling as a
dependent of a family group. These join female immigrants in a
broad stratum of occupations, from domestics to nurses. 

Once in the U.S., Where do Women Migrants Go?

The same set of basic processes that have promoted emigration
from several developing countries have also promoted immigration
into several booming global cities in the U.S. 

The global city has assumed an expanded role in the restructured
world economy. While manufacturing activity in the U.S. was once
heavily centralized, today manufacturing is widely dispersed
throughout the country and the world. Office work is undergoing
a similar transformation as telecommunication links allow
corporations to send clerical work to low wage areas in the U.S.
and overseas (see box - omitted here). This break-up of
operations requires elaborate planning, coordination, internal
administration, marketing distribution, and access to worldwide
political and economic information--all activities organized at
company headquarters. Headquarters operations, concentrate in
major cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Houston. 

This dense concentration of management, control, generate a
large number of very high-income jobs. At the same time,
however, they also generate a much larger supply of low wage
jobs-jobs to maintain, clean, or provide services such as food
to these firms, or former middle-income jobs that are deskilled
as a result of the introduction of technology. Furthermore, the
presence of many high-income professionals in the city generate
a vast supply of low wage jobs to service their lifestyles.
Residential building attendants, dog walkers, housekeepers for
the two-career family, gourmet food shop and restaurant workers,
etc.--all these workers are needed and needed cheaply. Since
native low-wage workers are less willing to accept them,
immigrants, particularly immigrant women, tend to fill these

Second, the dynamic growth in these cities as well as the
massive supply of immigrant workers have promoted the expansion
of "downgraded" manufacturing, especially in cities like New
York and Los Angeles. Sweatshops and piecework in garments,
footwear, furs, leather, and electronics industries are growing
rapidly. Immigrant entrepreneurs start small operations
subcontracted by large buyers or firms. 

For example, many investors now produce garments directly in New
York and Los Angeles rather than producing in Taiwan or Hong
Kong for export to the U.S. And while overall employment in the
New York garment industry is steadily falling, it is growing in
Chinatown to the point where shops are spilling over into Queens
and Brooklyn. 

The data show that immigrant women are heavily employed in these
low-level manufacturing jobs. The percentage of immigrant women
in manufacturing in New York and in Los Angeles is higher than
1) the percentage of the total U.S. female labor force in
manufacturing; 2) the percentage of women in manufacturing in
the home countries of these immigrants; and 3) the percentage of
these immigrants themselves who were in manufacturing before
leaving their home countries. 

While low wage and high wage jobs are booming in these cities,
there does not seem to be a similar expansion of middle-income
jobs. These jobs have dwindled in numbers as new technology has
upgraded some former middle income jobs and downgraded others.
A pronounced polarization is occurring in the labor force, with
predominantly male Americans occupying the upper income ranks
and a disproportionate number of minority and immigrant women
occupying low income ranks. 

Saskia Sassen-Koob is currently a visiting professor at the
University of California, Los Angeles. This article is based on
her forthcoming book: The Foreign Investment Connection:
Rethinking Immigration. 


Sweet Darlings in the Media 

How foreign corporations sell Western images of women to the
Third World

by Jill Gay
You can buy Vogue magazine in Brazil, listen to Coke ads in
Afrikaans in South Africa, watch the television show "The
Waltons" in Malaysia, and read Donald Duck cartoons in Chile. 

Multinational corporate domination of the media in Third World
countries from South Korea to Jamaica is growing. Hearst
publications Buenhogar (Good Housekeeping), Cosmopolitan, and
Vanidades are the women's magazines with the largest circulation
in Latin America. Some 71 percent of Malay, 75 percent of
Ecuadorian, and 50 percent of Chilean television programs are
foreign imports. 

The predominance of foreign-owned media in the Third World has
special significance and implications for women. In some
countries, however, feminists are using the medium--not the
message--for their own ends. 

Women are special targets for corporate advertising in the Third
World. Multinational corporations want women to buy their
products, from Ajax cleanser to Dior silk stockings.
Advertisements for the products of multinationals are the
economic backbone of women's magazines in Latin America: one
study by the Latin American Institute of Transnational Studies
(ILET) found that over 50 percent of the ads in women's
magazines in Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, and Chile were for
products of multinational corporations. 

The advertisements do not just sell merchandise, they sell a
particular life-style and female role. To be feminine and
desirable, one must buy the requisite amount of foreign imports.
In one ad for Rochas perfume, a white bejewelled woman sits next
to a perfume. "She was young, mysterious, and beautiful, and her
eyes bewitched me, but her perfume even more," the caption

Publicity for multinational goods also reinforces the
traditional role of woman as housekeeper. One carpet ad shows
three men eating and watching a boxing match on TV. The caption
reads: "The adorable monsters. Fanatics. Now these men are not
worried about staining the dining room floor. It has a Pliana
rug. Therefore the housewife can let them enjoy each punch." Men
can throw food on the floor, but the imported rug will assist
the woman in her role as housekeeper. 

A Malaysian ad shows a young pretty Malay woman painting her toe
nails. The caption reads: "This lady is busy washing clothes,"
and goes on to describe a washing machine product. Housework is
presented as easy, fun, and glamorous--provided one has the
necessary imported household device. 

Multinational products and ads present the ideal woman as young,
white, and thin. In the women's magazines analyzed by ILET, 40
percent of the ads were for fashion and beauty products. ln
Latin American societies, where the Indian population can be as
high as 70 percent of the population, women reject their
national identity to emulate the California look of corporate
ads. A Winston cigarette ad found on a table calendar in
Malaysia features a large photo of a woman who looks more
American than Malay wearing a wet, clinging blouse. The caption
reads: "Reach for Flavor. Winston of America." The ideal woman
of the transnational order is sexy, American-looking, and

The message apparently gets through. A survey by the Consumer
Association of Penang in Malaysia shows that low income factory
women spend money on high fashion and cosmetics rather than
healthy, nutritious food. 

Women are not just targets of multinational advertising. They
are also the passive objects. Women in various alluring
positions are used to sell men multinational products from beer
to cars. A Ford automobile ad in Malaysia shows a white woman
clad in a black bikini draped over a Ford car above the caption:
"Guess Ford's 2 exciting body shapes, win the car!" The ad
equates the body of the woman with the body of the car. 

The Consumer Association of Penang is beginning to monitor and
protest the sexist image of women in the mass media, and has
called upon women's groups and the Malaysian government to take

While multinational ads with their prescription for the proper
woman's role and lifestyle dominate women's magazines, Latin
American feminists are starting alternative efforts. 

In March 1982, Peruvian women put out the first national women's
magazine neither owned nor distributed by a multinational
corporation. Called Tortuga, the magazine is glossy, graphically
illustrated, printed on quality paper, and deliberately designed
to compete with the elaborately produced foreign women's
magazines. Since 30 percent of Peruvians are illiterate, the
women who produce Tortuga also broadcast a nationwide women's
radio program to discuss feminist concerns. Both the magazine
and the radio program portray the Peruvian national reality more
accurately than the transnational publications, describing
women's roles as peasants, domestic servants, housewives, etc. 

Fem, a Mexican feminist magazine, compared its ads with the
Hearst-owned publication Cosmopolitan. The study found that 20
percent of Cosmopolitan ads were for cosmetics, 17 percent for
clothes, and 14 percent for perfumes. Ads constitute almost 40
percent of Cosmopolitan's pages. 

While Cosmopolitan features articles on women of the jet-set,
Fem's articles discuss the real lives of Latin American women,
the majority of whom work at below subsistence wages as domestic
servants or marketsellers. In Fem, however, nearly 40 percent of
the ads are for books. Fem does not accept ads for cosmetics,
alcohol, cigarettes, and clothes, and ads constitute less than
13 percent of Fem's pages. 

Other multinational news and entertainment media such as radio
and TV programs, news agencies, magazines, and comic strips have
had a profound impact on the self-image of women. 

One mass media form popular with low-income women of Latin
America, North Africa, and Europe is the fotonovela. Fotonovelas
are love stories told in photographs with the dialogue in
balloon captions. They are produced in Italy, Spain, France,
and, more recently, Mexico, and printed largely in Miami and Los
Angeles or by subsidiary editorial houses in the Third World.
Between 100,000 and 400,000 copies of each fotonovela magazine
are produced. 

One analysis of the medium found that 90 percent of the plots
rewarded passivity. Fotonovelas glorify the acceptance of change
which cannot be controlled. The fotonovelas portray an
infallible judicial system, and suggest that those who are
wealthy deserve the privileges of wealth. Whereas in real life
in Latin America one child dies of disease or hunger every
minute, the children in fotonovelas die from car accidents or
leukemia, more often the fate of the affluent class. 

In the fotonovelas, women do not work. The lovable men are rich.
Security is obtained in marriage. One fotonovela plot shows a
poor, ill-dressed, barefoot woman whose blind boyfriend has an
operation to regain his sight. She leaves so he cannot see how
ugly she thinks herself to be. Upon regaining his sight, he
mistakes another woman--light-haired and beautiful--for his
girlfriend. He falls in love and marries here. The poor,
barefoot woman joins a drifter in her own social class. 

The message: the lower class is ugly, and beauty is what counts.
Fotonovelas sell nothing directly. But they encourage women on
the edge of survival to buy "beauty" instead of necessities to

While fotonovelas encourage women to be dependent and helpless,
feminist groups in Latin America have started to use the
fotonovela medium to foster a feminist consciousness. Maria,
Liberacion del Pueblo is a newsletter featuring fotonovelas
produced by shantytown women of Cuernavaca, Mexico. The
photographs are shot in the community using the women themselves
as models. One story shows Esperanza, the heroine, studying
basic health care with other women. Wanting to know where she
is, Esperanza's husband visits her mother, who tells him, "She
went out again. You shouldn't let her go out so much. She's not
doing the housework." Upon returning home, the husband yells at
Esperanza, "I'm fed up. You always come late--who knows where
you've been?" 

But later, the husband comes home with a bleeding hand.
Esperanza, now trained in health care, treats her husband's
wound. She goes on to form a community health group with the
support of her husband and mother. 

Maria, Liberacion del Pueblo has a circulation of 5,000--a
fraction of that produced by multinationals. But the feminist
use of a formerly corporate medium is an important step. 

Comics teach Third World children early in life the proper role
of women. Disney Comics, produced of course by Walt Disney
Productions, are translated into more than 30 languages, and run
in 5,000 newspapers in more than 100 countries. In Disney
society, women are passive, jealous, and consumed with the need
for clothing and cosmetic items. The only power of Daisy Duck or
Minnie Mouse is the traditional one of seductress, which she
exercises in the form of coquetry. 

Feminist groups in the Third World are beginning to use the
comic strip medium for their own visions. Cartoon books are
easier to read for the majority of Third World peoples who do
not have access to much formal education. A feminist group in
Peru, the CentroFlora Tristan, has produced a series of cartoon
books on feminist issues. One explains basic health issues. In
another, a working shantytown woman and a housewife discuss the
merits and the problems of their different lives. A third, "We
are Streetvendors," modelled on real women who survive by
selling food in the streets, is intended as a tool to discuss
streetvendors' work options. 

The U.S. television networks export their programs across the
globe. Television is an especially potent medium for
advertising, news, and entertainment, particularly in countries
with high rates of illiteracy. Here again, sex role stereotyping
is the rule and heavy emphasis on American shows threaten the
cultural identity of developing countries. 

In the 1960s in Venezuela, the most popular television show was
"Bonanza" which showed hardy cowboys rescuing women from various
situations of distress; the show was once seen in 60 countries
with an estimated audience of 350 million. In South Africa,
today, a person can watch "Dallas," "Knightrider," and "The
Waltons." In Malaysia, the offerings include "The Waltons,"
"Dallas," and "Charlie's Angels." While "Charlie's Angels" is
toutEd as showing bright and independent women, the "angels"
take orders from a male authority "Charlie," and invariably the
man on the team, "Bosley" comes up with the real clues. 

But feminists are also beginning to use television for their
message. In Jamaica, Beverly Manley, prior to becoming Women's
Association President for the People's National Party and First
Lady, launched a television program called "Jamaica Woman." She
focused on the Jamaican reality and feminist concerns. 

Women in the Third World are beginning to use the mediums
corporations have used so successfully to present an alternative
vision of women, one based on their own national reality. And we
feminists in the United States need, for our sake and theirs, to
achieve a significant impact on the corporations which produce
radio, TV, films, comics, magazines, and ads. 

Jill Cay is co-director of the Third World Women's Project at
the Institute for Policy Studies. 



Corporations meet Islam

by Deborah Smith

Factories for the Third World. Produced by Gordian Troeller and
Claude Deffarge. 16mm color 43 minutes 1979. 

Factories for the Third World, a case study of transnational
corporations in Tunisia brings to the documentary screen a rare
look at the impact of foreign investment on an Islamic culture. 

While the film shows that the trend we've come to associate with
Southeast Asian and Latin American countries--cadres of young
women behind factory doors in free trade zones and industrial
parks--is also on the rise in this North African country it also
raises a new question: will the tension between Islamic 
tradition and corporate expansion be more than capitalism can

This film takes us on a tour of an apparel factory in the
capital city of Tunis where women paid 38 cents a day as
apprentices sew cut patterns and the like for goods which will
eventually be shipped to Europe for retail. So strict are some
of the export-only policies that old sewing machines and surplus
or imperfect fabrics are burned rather than distributed to
Tunisians. To get caught filching even a tiny fabric swatch on
its way to the incinerator means dismissal. 

We also visit a new series of foreign-owned factories where rows
of women sit on long benches producing Tunisian rugs which
actually bear no relation to anything traditionally Tunisian. 

Somewhat disconcerting however was an interview with a Mullah
who criticizes the employment of women by multinationals based
on an interpretation of the Koran which forbids women from being
actively involved in life. One leaves the film not knowing what
alternatives exist between the poles of fundamentalist Islam and
corporate exploitation. 

Deborah Smith, a freelance film reviewer, is on the staff of the
Institute for Policy Studies. 

Distributed by Icanrus Films, 200 Park Avenue South, Suite 1319,
New York, NY 10003. (202) 674-3375. Rental $75; sale $429.